In view of the general election in 2024, the Union Budget 2023-24 may throw a surprise by announcing women-specific schemes as indicated by the Economic Survey 2022-23 which underscored the importance of ‘gender dividend’ for economic and social development,

“Channelising women’s economic potential through ecosystem services such as affordable market alternatives for care work, safe transportation and lodging, and long-term counselling support, can help capitalise the gender dividend for the country’s future economic and social development,” the survey said.

Taking the survey as an indication of likely policy, the government may stay away from any direct cash transfer scheme for women and rather concentrate on increasing their share in existing system by expanding the opportunities.

The Congress has announced ‘Gruha Lakshmi Scheme’ for Karnataka promising ₹2,000 per month to each woman head of a family and Trinamool Congress has promised a financial assistance of ₹1,000 to women in Meghalaya, ahead of coming assembly polls. The Congress had announced ₹1,500 monthly allowance to women in Himachal Pradesh, while Aam Admi Party in Punjab had promised ₹1,000 to all women.

The Economic Survey said that there is a significant scope to nullify the gender-based disadvantages to enable free choice of women to join the labour market.

“Ecosystem services, including affordable creches, career counselling/handholding, lodging and transportation can further help unlock the gender dividend for inclusive and broad-based growth,” it said.

Over 75 per cent of rural female workers are employed in the agriculture sector, which implies a need to upskill and create employment for women in agriculture-related sectors such as food processing, the survey said.

“The self-help groups (SHGs) can play a crucial role in shaping rural women’s potential into concrete developmental outcomes of financial inclusion, livelihood diversification, and skill development,” it said.

An upturn in the female labour force participation rate (FLFPR), which rose by 9.5 percentage points between 2017-18 and 2020-21 for usual status and by 8.3 percentage points for current weekly status (CWS) is a positive development on the gender aspect of employment, which could be attributed to rising rural amenities freeing up women’s time, and high agricultural growth over the years.

While usual status has a long reference period of one year, CWS is a stricter benchmark, captures loss in duration of employment with a reference period of one week.

On the parameter of gender inequality, India’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) value is 0.490 in 2021 and is ranked 122. This score is better than that of the South Asian region (value: 0.508) and close to the world average of 0.465. This reflects the government’s initiatives and investments towards more inclusive growth, social protection, and gender-responsive development policies, the survey said.